A local Republican Committee Chairman claims he was arrested after peacefully carrying two legal guns and an “Impeach Obama” sign last year.
Brandon Howard says that a Hopewell, Virginia, police sergeant violated his constitutional rights by seizing his guns and detaining him for 90 minutes.
The Rutherford Institute has filed a federal lawsuit on his behalf against the city and the policeman in charge.
“As this case shows, while it still technically remains legal to own a firearm in America, possessing one can now get you pulled over, searched, arrested, subjected to all manner of surveillance, treated as a suspect without ever having committed a crime, shot at and killed,” said attorney John W. Whitehead, the president of the Rutherford Institute.
Said Howard: “I was illegally searched, my weapons were illegally taken from me, I was illegally detained. I was publicly humiliated.”
Howard attracted the attention of the Hopewell police when he unfurled an “Impeach Obama” banner on an overpass overlooking Interstate I-295 in Hopewell, a suburb of Richmond, on Aug. 26, 2013. Howard brought two legal guns – a DMTS Panther Arms AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder on a strap, and a .380 caliber Bersa Thunder sidearm pistol in a belted holster on his waist. Both guns were legally owned and he never brandished them.
Not on My Overpass
After a half hour of Howard protesting, several Hopewell police cruisers pulled up and around six to eight officers got out with guns drawn. The officers ordered Howard to drop his sign and get on the ground with his hands over his head. Howard complied with the orders.
“They had their weapons out, trained on me,” Howard told Richmond TV station WTVR.
The officers were led by Sgt. John Hunter, who reportedly said, “What do you think you are doing threatening people on my interstate?”
Howard, who claims he did not threaten anyone, explained that he was merely exercising his First and Second Amendment rights. To this Hunter reportedly replied, “Not on my overpass you’re not.”
Hunter then handcuffed Howard, who asked if he was being arrested. Hunter supposedly said, “I’m not arresting you, I’m detaining you.” Howard was handcuffed and taken to the police station. He was never charged nor read his rights, and he was apparently never questioned even though he was locked in an interrogation room.
After an hour and a half of “detention,” Howard was released and his weapons were returned. Another officer even drove Howard back to the overpass.
When he got home, Howard noticed that there was a 2 1/2 inch scratch on his rifle. Howard believes Hunter damaged the rifle when he threw it in the trunk of the police car.
The Hopewell commonwealth attorney told WTVR that Howard was within his rights and violated no laws.
On Sept. 23, 2013, Howard received a letter from Robert Skowron, Hopewell’s deputy chief of police. The letter stated that Hunter was “in violation of department policy” and would “be disciplined according to policy guidelines and sent to remedial training.”
Hopewell Police Chief John Keohane refused to comment on the lawsuit when contacted by The Richmond Times Dispatch, although he did admit that Hunter had been investigated and disciplined.
“We’re a nation of laws; the law of Virginia is that I can carry my weapon openly,”
Howard said. “If we don’t exercise these rights, the rights have no value.”
Howard is the chairman of the Hopewell Republican Committee and a former member of a Tea Party group called the Tri-Liberty Alliance. Howard and others have held a number of peaceful protests calling for Obama’s impeachment without incident in the Hopewell area.
“We have a tyrant in office right now; he thinks he’s a king,” Howard said of Obama.
Said Whitehead, “The U.S. government has unfortunately adopted a ‘do what I say, not what I do’ mindset when it comes to Americans’ rights overall. Nowhere is this double standard more evident than in the government’s attempts to arm itself to the teeth, all the while viewing as suspect anyone who dares to legally own a gun, let alone use one.”
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